By SETH STRINGER
Headed into the Region 8 tournament, NWF State skipper Doug Martin talked about how the Raiders did nothing particularly well.
Pitching. Hitting. Defense. Base running.
Concerning the intricacies of America's pastime, the Raiders weren't the gold standard. Nothing stood out. They simply found a way to gut out wins to finish Panhandle runner-up and garner a No. 8 seed in the Region 8 tournament.
Well, on Friday at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Martin ate those words.
JJ Montgomery struck out 10 in a complete-game gem, the offense exploded for 13 hits off Tommy Romero — awarded the state's top pitcher at the FCSAA banquet a day earlier — and the defense was flawless in a 10-2 win over ninth-seeded Eastern Florida State.
"All of the things we talked about the other day for the (preview) article .... really today we did everything well," said Martin, who led a similar rag-tag Raiders crew to a national title in 2015. "We had great defense, pitched well, had timely hitting with key bunts and big swings and we ran the bases well. There wasn't any part of the game we didn't do well. We played as well tonight as I've ever seen. And against the No. 1 pitcher in the state, too."
"I'm just so proud of the fellas."
Summing up the win perfectly was Fort Walton Beach High alumnus Joe Guidry in the bottom of the sixth inning.
By the time he stepped to the plate that frame, NWF State was comfortably ahead 5-2.
On an 0-1 pitch with a runner on third, Guidry split the right-center field gap with an opposite-field drive. By the time the center fielder reached the ball in the deepest part of the Spring Training home park for the Detroit Tigers, Guidry was passing second. The relay throw was a bit wide right of the cutoff man and Guidry was waved home.
Stand-up, two-run inside-the-park home run. Awaiting at home plate was the entire Raiders dugout.
Hyped. Woke. Lit. Stoked. This was postseason baseball.
Three innings earlier Guidry delivered the first of two hits and three RBI on a suicide squeeze up the first base line to score Devin Brown. Landon Crowder followed with an RBI base knock, and two innings later Daino Deas delivered a two-run triple to right center to highlight a three-run fourth.
"Every time we needed a hit, we got one," Martin said.
The offense tacked on four runs in the sixth and another in the eight to end the night early in run-ruled fashion. That proved more than enough run support for Montgomery, who struck out 10 and pitched around 11 hits beautifully in allowing only two runs over eight innings. His ERA of 1.82 during the regular season proved no fluke.
"That's just what we needed," Martin said. "I thought he threw a lot of strikes and got out of some crucial situations. He's been pretty steady all year for us and to see him match up with Romero and outduel him was huge."
Romero's final line was five earned runs on seven hits and three walks through five innings of nine-strikeout ball.
The Raiders ended up having four multi-hit efforts and every batter reached safely as part of five walks. Brown went 3 for 4 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI and Mike Salvatore (2 for 4 with RBI) and Cole Halfacre (2 for 3 with three runs) joined Guidry with a pair of base knocks. Deas added two RBI.
Next up for the Raiders in the double-elimination showcase is Santa Fe today at noon. Eric Orze and his 4.57 ERA will take the mound to try to give the Raiders the second of six wins they'll need in six days to advance to the national tournament.